California Coastline

California Coastline
Imagine the Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocky coast of California’s northern half, a ribbon of asphalt longer than a day’s ride drawing the line between the land and the sea, and you’re on your way there right now. Your flight is booked, your motorcycle rental is all lined up and your status updates updated. But where do you sleep?

You’ve got the company of your good friends and reservations at some of the area’s best restaurants. But how do you know which hotel is going to be the best one? Online reviews tend to go both ways – “we loved it, we hated it” – leaving you without a clue, until now. Especially in the remote locations we travel to, it’s hard to tell which hotel to choose when booking in advance. You don’t want the most memorable part of your ride to be the sore back you got the first night out, that’s for sure.

Introduced this year, after 65 years in business, the Best Western hotel chain, touted as the world’s largest (family) hotel chain, has instituted a new and democratically elected nomenclature to help you choose the right experience for your dollars. We’ve planned this tour to experience a range from the standard Best Western hotel to the Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier, while experiencing possibly the best the West Coast has to offer a rider: the Pacific Coast Highway and the adjoining wine country.

Fall is harvest season for many wineries; if you explore on foot, you might find a few grapes.

Some might call a ride like this their honeymoon; others may call it their Sunday Ride. Either way, the coastal twisties north of California’s “other” capital city, San Francisco, toward the Oregon border is a must-see for any rider. And checking all the high-end boxes on the wish list will lead you on a tour through nearly a dozen counties, ripe vineyards, redwood groves, coastal bluffs and a dizzying array of culinary delights.

Gathering a group of friends from different cities can be complicated, with layovers, flight delays and time zone changes. So when we get together, we often group up the night before our rental pickups start, as a buffer for any such mishaps in travel. With our tour starting in the Bay Area, a night’s stay close to the airport is handy, although if you want to see the city of San Francisco itself, you’ll have to hop on public transit or hire a car, as the airport is 15 miles from the city. That doesn’t stop us from beginning our moto-grub tour tonight, however. And with coastal bliss on our wine-soaked minds, tomorrow’s ride can’t arrive soon enough!

The winery-free roads of eastern Napa County make terrific leisure rides.

Our tour is a clockwise romp, dotted with a frequent-flyer mindset in regards to lodging. Travel by motorcycle tends to be more economical, leaving more cash for better meals and better accommodations. Taking advantage of the seasonal point bonuses at the Best Western hotel chain, we’re racking up future free nights along the way. In concert with the Harley-Davidson/Best Western Ride Rewards program, each night’s stay at one of the 2,200 nationwide Best Western locations (4,000 worldwide, 1,200 of which are “rider friendly”) gives us points we can turn into free nights, gifts or even airline miles. Besides, who doesn’t want a welcoming face, special motorcycle parking and a hot tub to soak in after a long day in the saddle? All part of the package.

Ride, Eat and Repeat

With the rental agreements signed and ready, the good folks at Oakland Harley-Davidson point us westward and set us free to roam. Crossing the Bay Bridge and filtering through San Francisco, we latch onto the Highway 101 signs to guide us across the Golden Gate Bridge. Just north of Sausalito we peel off the slab, cruising on to Highway 1 towards Muir Beach and the coast.

Motorcycle & Gear

2011 Harley-Davidson Road King

Helmet: HJC AC-3 carbon fiber
Jacket: REV'IT
Gloves: Tour Master
Luggage: Harley-Davidson Rolling Touring Bag

After the complicated and heavily trafficked first 40 miles, we’re due for a stop and a moment to stare at the sea. Seasonal fall fog prevents us from seeing anything but the other tourists on Stinson Beach, but it’s placid nonetheless. Only 100 more miles to go before we turn away from such beauty. Sad, isn’t it?

With hardly a dry mile between Stinson and our lunch stop in Bodega Bay, the pace is mellow, but that doesn’t prevent a healthy batch of smiles in the group.

A casual roadside stop at the Sandpiper restaurant serves up delicious seafood with a view of the bay from the table. Clam chowder and daily specials of barbecue oysters and crab tacos fill the bellies of the chilly riders.

Chef Chiarello's potato-dough ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta, topped with black truffles.

Sailing along the coast highway for the next 60 miles is heavenly. With hawks drafting coastal thermals just off our left shoulders, the turn-by-turn freedom ends too soon. Making the right hand turn (east, away from the water) just north of Point Arena onto Mountain View Road begins a journey of another kind. The bumpy, tree-lined road blocks the sun, reminding us that it’s late fall, but the road between Boonville and Ukiah is the charmer! It’s a smooth, winding road that gains elevation over Cold Spring Mountain and offers vistas galore before diving into the Anderson Valley, then the Russian River Valley and on to Ukiah, our destination for the night.

In the land of plenty, every night’s meal requires heavy consideration of what to imbibe. Surely, as you whizz by miles upon miles of vineyards, you’re thinking a glass of vino is a must. But like the road itself, not every mile has to be bent into a pretzel to enjoy it, and with that alternative, a night of beer drinking enters the mix.

The manicured landscape of Napa County is like a full scale topo map you can ride on!

Settling into the Best Western Plus Orchard Inn, tonight’s culinary journey is a mere 15-minute walk from the hotel and boasts organic greatness disguised as a local bar. The family-run Ukiah Brewing Co. & Restaurant is more than just a bar, however. As the nation’s first organic brewpub and only the second certified organic restaurant (both food and beer), the menu isn’t what you might expect. Bikers don’t eat tofu, right? Well, some of us do, but the brewery serves much more than that. Just because they’re “organic” doesn’t mean you can’t get some meat on your plate.

As a fine-dining experience located in an old Mendocino county alehouse, nightly live music fills the main room (separate from the dining hall). Some of our group retire early while others boogie down with the locals, jamming to live Hendrix licks and hoping for Janis to sing along before we too retire for the night. Tomorrow it’s back to wine tasting, but not before another full day in the saddle.